The original NSU factory was established in the German town of Riedlingen on the Danube river for manufacturing knitting machines in 1873 by two mechanics named Heinrich Stoll and Christian Schmidt. The business was relocated seven years later to a more suitable premises in the town of Neckarsulm. The company name, NSU, was derived from the three rivers located near to the second factory: N (Neckar) and S (Sülm). The original company was named Neckarsulmer Strickmaschinenfabrik (Neckarsulm Knitting Machine Factory).
As with most of the early motorcycle manufacturers, NSU began their two wheeled production with bicycles. However, in 1901 the company produced their first motorized bicycle which used a 1.5 hp Swiss Zedel engine.
The company began to design and manufacture their own engines and by 1904 had six models available. Interestingly, the company produced one of the earliest V-twin engines in 1905 developing 3 hp. By 1909 the company had a 1000-cc V-twin.
Not only did NSU manufacture complete motorcycles, they also began to make cars (1905), taxis and trucks; car production was discontinued in 1928/9 (the division being sold to Fiat of Italy) to allow the company to concentrate on motorcycle production.
Marketing through Racing
Racing was a major part of the early motorcycle manufacturer’s marketing plans and NSU was no exception. Their machines competed in the TT, and even in cross continent events such as from San Francisco to New York in 1910; a feat that took twenty eight days for the 3,937 mile journey.
In 1930, Englishman Sir William Moore, an accomplished engineer, joined NSU as their chief designer of race machines. With rider Tom Bullus, the company won every race they entered in 1930 and 1931. German and Swiss titles were added to the list of accomplishments in 1935 and 1937.
As with most motorcycle manufacturers of the time, the Second World War required masses of vehicles for national service. NSU was contracted by the Wehrmacht to produce military vehicles.
After the war, production began for a small < ahref="http://classicmotorcycles.about.com/od/historicaldevelopment/ss/2Strokeengines.htm">2-stroke 125-cc machine based on the DKW at the NSU plant in Neckarsulm.
By 1951 the company was involved in competition again and in using it to promote the brand. They also set another world record when Wilhelm Herz set a new world record on an autobahn by reaching a speed of 181 mph (290 km/h) on a supercharged 500 cc NSU race bike.
The NSU recovery from World War Two was incredible; by 1955 NSU had become one of the largest producers of two wheeled machines (cycles and motorcycles) with an output of some 296,836 machines. They also produced 45,747 cycles in the same year.
The company was taken over and amalgamated a number of times, including Auto Union GmbH (1964), VW (1969) and lastly by Audi who merged to form Audi NSU Auto Union AG. NSU built its last motorcycle in 1968. By 1984 the name NSU was discontinued within the VW/Audi group.
Famous Models, the NSU 250 Sportmax
The racing version of the company’s 250 sports touring machine was highly successful in the world of Grand Prix racing, winning the constructers World Championship twice. In addition, rider H.P. Müller on a 250 Sportmax, riding as a privateer, won the 1955 World Championship (a first for a privateer).
The single cylinder 4-stroke produced a claimed 28 hp at 10,000 rpm and achieved a top speed of 132 mph (212 km/hr).
The little Quickly was one of the world’s most popular mopeds. The company was producing some 1000 units per day in 1954 to meet demand. The single cylinder 2-stroke engine produced a modest power (depending on the model) and a top speed of around 25 mph (40 km/hr). The NSU Quick variant (produced between 1962 and 1965) had a 4.2 hp engine and a respectable top speed of 44 mph (70 km/hr).